Famed cardiac surgeon Robert Jarvik said, Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them. Because of the wise and bold leadership of the past few years, Columbia County is reaping the benefits of forward thinking and fiscal responsibility. Faced with an economic downturn, the county intends to pass a budget that will reflect no growth or a decrease in the General Fund in order not to raise the taxpayers millage rate.
The need to be proactive in strategic planning is reflected by the Board of Commissioners top projects for 2002. These short- and long-range goals reflect the needs of current and future Columbia County residents.
Create unified development code. Columbia Coun-ty is synonymous with growth, and new development needs consistency, wisdom and vision in order to keep the county a desirable place to live and work.
Complete LOST negotiations. One of the countys larger sources of income is derived from Local Option Sales Tax funds. Every 10 years, after the census report, the distribution of these funds is negotiated between Harlem, Grovetown and the unincorporated county. This year, the cities and county must come to an agreement in order for the LOST funds to be continued.
Implementation of a countywide task management system and Intranet. Incorporating the countys Geographic Information System (GIS) with each departments work order/ complaint line software will ensure that no request falls through the cracks. In another effort to communicate effectively within the county government, an Intranet (with items such as county policies and procedures and a telephone listing) will soon be available to all employees. We are stressing increased technology over increased personnel to get the job done efficiently and effectively.
Complete General Obligation Bond construction projects. The new Columbia County Justice Center and Courthouse Annex and Detention Center expansion are nearing completion. As with most large construction projects, unfortunately there have been the some delays and change orders. Contingency funds have already been appropriated for these expenses, and great diligence will be used to ensure that the architect and contractors assume the cost for any changes needed due to errors and omissions.
Continue to resolve stormwater problems. The Stormwater Utility has been in effect for more than a year and has collected over $1.4 million in fees. Routine and periodic maintenance, streambank stabilizations, pipe replacements and general improvements are planned in addition to a list of large projects.
Pass tree protection ordinance. The beautiful, natural setting of Columbia County must be protected. Creative and conservative development can provide needed housing and businesses while preserving the environment.
Use greenway system collaboratively with new subdivision development. Over the past two years, the county has qualified for more than $1 million in state grants for greenspace. The county can greatly enhance greenspaces in housing developments and around businesses with the cooperation of developers.
Implement GASB 34 and a long-term financial plan. A new unfunded federal mandate, Governmental Accounting Standards Board Statement 34, will provide comprehensive information on the full cost of providing services to citizens, infrastructure assets and an analysis of the governments financial peform-ance. Complying with this new accounting structure and initiating a long-term financial plan will ensure continuation of our superior financial accountability and bond rating.
Retrofit and replace water meters to accept new electronic meter reading. The county is always looking for ways to make our employees more productive. The Water Department is upgrading or replacing water meters that emit an electronic signal which allows for more accurate readings done in half the normal time.
Initiate study for downtown Martinez improvements. With all the new growth in Columbia County, there could be a tendency to ignore the areas that have sustained businesses over the years. Downtown Martinez is the heart of the more populated area of the county, and a study will be initiated to ensure that it remains a vital area.
Because of the growth of the county, the Commission has been able to maintain a stable tax millage rate. However, the overall fiscal health of the county will not likely remain so robust due to a depressed economy. The possibility of unifying the county government with one of our two cities, Harlem and Grovetown, or incorporating the county, is worth renewed consideration. Each year, our county citizens pay millions of dollars for franchise fees to our major utilities. But because Columbia County is not incorporated, our citizens do not get back any of the approximately $5 to $6 million they pay in franchise fees. If we could recoup these funds, a stable millage rate could be maintained.
The challenge of guiding this wonderful county is exhilarating and weighty. All the commissioners and constitutional officers strive diligently to provide the best quality services economically for the county. The volunteers who serve on boards and authorities as well as contribute to the Recreation Department are making a huge positive contribution to the welfare of this county.
All residents are encouraged to become involved. Columbia County has many beautiful nature areas, lovely housing subdivisions, and great places to work, but the best part of the county is the quality and community spirit of its citizens. It is an honor to represent and work with you as we endeavor to improve Columbia County.
(Barry Fleming is chairman of the Columbia County Commission.)
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